WordPress is awesome because it provides a great core and is infinitely extendable. Thousands of themes, plugins, add-ons, and management portals exist to make WordPress do whatever you want it to do.
WordPress’ free themes directory has over 1,500 themes, including a variety of colors, fixed- or flexible-widths, translation-ready, widget-ready, microformat-enabled, and HTML5 themes to choose from.
Premium WordPress Extensions
But some of the most awesome plugins are not free. In the WordPress community, these extensions are called “premium plugins” and “premium themes”. WordPress core is free and always will be, but premium extensions have really become popular over the past couple years as WordPress’ popularity has skyrocketed.
Some of the most popular premium plugins include Gravity Forms, WPMU DEV’s long list of plugins, and iThemes’ Backup Buddy. Sometimes premium plugins have “Lite” versions that are free, like SlideDeck’s paid and free versions.
The same goes for themes. There are theme shops like Elegant Themes and WooThemes, a bunch of themes from WPMU DEV, and themes from marketplaces like ThemeForest and MOJO Themes. Theme frameworks are also common now, coming from PageLines, Genesis, Catalyst, and Thesis.
The cost of Premium WordPress Extensions
There are so many extensions available for WordPress that sometimes it’s difficult to choose. If you start using Plugin X today and then Plugin Y comes out next month, do you stick with X or switch to Y? Or what if development on X stops but you still need it? These are some of the headaches that go along with using free products.
Premium WordPress extensions are usually priced inclusive of customer support and future upgrades, at least for the first few months or year, if not forever. As long as the product keeps selling and people keep using it, the developers continue having incentive to provide updates and support, and you can confidently commit long-term to their product.
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With free extensions, a plugin or theme developer can easily get overwhelmed with providing updates and support because they’re spending considerable time and effort without receiving direct compensation. It’s in your best interest to donate to plugins you actually use. If the author gets burnt out (bad) or gets a great job (good) because of his or her free WP extensions, they may abandon the plugin and ask the community to come up with someone else to upkeep it (called “forking” into a new plugin, or just having the previous author change ownership or add a contributor to the already existing plugin). Again, all this depends on each author and the community of users.
It’s my opinion that you should pay for premium plugins and themes if you’re expecting to use their features for more than 6-12 months. For example, if you are starting a new website expecting to sell the hand-made soap that you created over summer break and then never do WordPress again, you probably don’t want to pay for premium extensions because you could easily spend $40 – $400, which could eat your soap profits (if you sell any soaps at all). However, if you’re starting a hand-made soap manufacturing (oxymoron?) company, then it’s well worth it for you to commit to premium extensions.
Example Case Against Free Extensions
In month 1, you find the extensions you want to use, create the website, and get things just right. In month 3, there might be a minor WordPress core update. Your plugins probably won’t need to be updated to continue working, but maybe they should be to benefit from WP optimizations or security. In month 7, there might be a major core update. Your plugins aren’t compatible with the newest version of WP so you’re in a pickle… Do you hire a freelancer to make the fixes ($$ – $$$) or spend your time (and possibly money) switching to another plugin?
Just thinking about that situation makes me tear up a bit; just think of your favorite free plugin disappearing. Granted, if you’re using a free plugin or theme that has a dedicated author to rely on, it’s like finding unattended candy when going Trick-or-Treating. Doesn’t free food just taste better?
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The Case For Premium Extensions
If you’re a die-hard freebie and just won’t pay for stuff, you’re probably already peeved by this article. But if you’re more die-hard committed to your website and making sure it creates as little headache for you as possible, then we’re on the same page. You might already pay for managed WordPress hosting, make money from your site(s), or already have your own story about the dreaded plugin abandonment disease.
Premium extensions are consistently updated and tweaked to make sure they are:
- Compatible with the current version of WordPress core (sometimes even incorporating backwards-compatibility)
- Optimized for speed and security (partly achieved simply by staying current with WP core)
- Open to feedback and new ideas
- Available for support requests and testing sites that are having issues
- In compliance with WordPress GPL licensing
- Constantly improving to attract new sales and grow the community
- Lacking distracting PayPal donate buttons, annoying boxes to check to remove branding, etc.
Additionally, they often have affiliate programs to incentivize spreading the word and growing sales and the community, both of which help past purchasers. Heck, you could even use the proceeds to end up getting the extension at no cost.
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Personally, I honestly do prefer paid extensions. I consider the price to be a suggested donation, usually worth every penny if I think of the author(s) as my buddies or someone who custom coded exactly what I needed, especially when I look at something and think to myself, “This is exactly how I would have done it if _____ (I could… I had time… I paid to have it developed… etc.).”
My favorite paid extensions include:
- PageLines Developer Edition (theme framework)
- A drag-and-drop theme framework, recently upgraded to be based on Twitter Bootstrap, including LESS CSS.
- Has its own PageLines Store to buy plugins, child themes, and theme “sections”, some of which are free.
- Allows for static-width, pixel-based responsive, or percent-based responsive widths.
- One-click installer and updater, which is also how Store items get installed
- $197 includes all future upgrades within major version numbers. Version 2.x was released at the end of 2011. Lower-level option available.
- Gravity Forms Developer (forms plugin)
- A drag-and-drop form builder with nearly a dozen valuable add-ons.
- Enables front-end posting to custom fields, creating new posts, and more.
- One-click updater, just like WordPress
- So many options that just might come in handy, even for just one site
- $199 includes 1 year of updates and support. Lower-level options available.
- WPMU DEV Elite Membership (collection of plugins, themes, and support)
- Access to 140+ plugins, 160+ themes, and WordPress support (not just their own plugin and themes), including live chat, training videos, and more.
- Their WPMU DEV Dashboard plugin goes beyond being called just a one-click updater. It’s customizable in wp-config.php, allows you to hide it from all the specified WordPress users, and more. It was a great improvement that I received for free several months ago because I was already a subscriber.
- They recently released Ultimate Branding, which allows you to make your own white-label WordPress.
- I really appreciate their commitment to making plugins and themes work with WordPress MultiSite and BuddyPress. Also, many of their plugins are integrated with each other, which comes in very handy.
- Ability to download earlier versions, if you need an older version of a plugin or theme.
- $419 for 12 months, with shorter-term and lower-level membership options also available.
Another benefit of using premium plugins and themes is the ability to advertise their benefits to clients, especially if they’ll host with you and/or pay a management fee for performing updates, upgrades, minor changes, and maintenance. Then you’ll be able to say you’re providing nearly $1,000 in premium plugin/theme added value, plus they get your expert support.
Share your thoughts
Do you dislike the idea of premium extensions and wish for the utopian WordPress community where everything’s free and everyone provides reliable support and enough monetary donations? Are you comfortable doing your own due diligence when surfing the plugin directory and hate paying for stuff in principle?
Or do you agree with the premise of paying for valuable plugins and themes and their upkeep?
Should some hybrid approach to sustaining WordPress development exist?
Also, what are your favorite premium extensions?
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